Comedian and host of Late Night Seth Meyers joins Zibby to talk about his new picture book, I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared. The two talk about their shared editor at Flamingo, the ways in which being a big reader and writer has helped Seth at every stage of his career —notably at Saturday Night Live— and how the pandemic has only strengthened his relationship with books. Seth also shares his wife’s connection to the Holocaust and the impact it still has on their family today.

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Zibby Owens: Welcome, Seth. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared.

Seth Meyers: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: This is such a joy. By the way, so great that we have the same editor, Margaret Anastas, who I adore. I’m doing a children’s book with her too. She’s the best.

Seth: She is so wonderful. This is the first time I have worked with a book editor in any way. What a delight they are and how helpful they are with their small suggestions that make huge differences.

Zibby: Totally. I know. I was like, “Margaret, I feel like you need your name on my cover.” She’s like, “No, no, this is what an editor does.” I’m like, okay, great. Perfect. I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared, your first picture book, super exciting. It’s essentially about a bear with an anxiety disorder, almost, who’s doing everything he can to get past his fears. If I could just show my favorite page of this book, is that okay? This is when they’re going on their first adventure, or trying to. “Bear stopped to make sure they had everything they needed. ‘Do I need a bike helmet?’ Bear asked. ‘No,’ said Rabbit. ‘Do I need oven mitts?’ ‘No,’ said Rabbit. ‘Do I need bear repellant spray?’ ‘You’re a bear,’ said Rabbit.” Oh, my gosh, perfect. Hilarious.

Seth: Thank you. What a wonderful thing it is to work with an artist who understands that you need to be able to see a can of bear repellant that will read to children. It’s amazing. Obviously, I don’t have to tell you this, but you learn so much about writing picture books from reading picture books. You can’t say a thing that they then can’t see.

Zibby: Yes, absolutely. The bear repellant spray is perfect. Great illustration. You do a million things. Why a picture book? Why’d you decide to do this?

Seth: Of the million things I do, my kids aren’t engaging with any of it. They cannot stay up late enough to watch my show. They’re not particularly interested in my stand-up work yet. It really is just, I love reading books to them. I love how it’s introducing them to the world of reading and what it shows me about their imaginations. No small part of it was probably my own ego wanting to jump into the fray and see how I can measure up against the monsters of children’s literature that I’m up against. It was really fun. It was a fun process and a different process. It was completely unique to other writing I had done. There were a lot of reasons. Mostly, it’s just fun to hold a book that you worked on and be able to read it to your kids.

Zibby: What do they think? Were they a tough critic?

Seth: They like it a lot. They are tough critics. They were very helpful in the early stage of this book, especially because it is a book about fear. It’s also about how fear isn’t always a terrible thing. Sometimes you want your kids to be afraid of things that are actually dangerous. Fear can be a guide. At the same time, though, I didn’t want the book to be so scary that kids wouldn’t want to read it. That was the part they were helpful with early on. I would tell them the story before I wrote it all down. They were great there. Now, sadly, their favorite part of the book is the dedication page where I dedicated it to them. They just like pointing out their names to people. I guess they inherited their ego from me.

Zibby: You’re smart. I dedicated my book that’s coming out just to one of my four kids.

Seth: Oh, my gosh.

Zibby: I know. It was such a mom mistake. I’m mortified, but it was kind of based on her. Now they’ve made me promise — I’m like, I don’t know if I’m going to get four books out of this.

Seth: I don’t want to flex here, but I was so the opposite of you. We had a baby coming. We had a baby on the way. Margaret was asking me for my dedication. I wanted to wait until our baby girl was born before I even — I was like, this will come back to haunt me. I don’t want some teenage girl yelling at me on the eve of her bat mitzvah, how I ruined everything by not .

Zibby: You’re much smarter than I was. Lesson learned. Congratulations on your baby, by the way. So exciting.

Seth: Thank you.

Zibby: I read somewhere that your second baby was born in your lobby. Is that true?

Seth: Yes. I actually did a Netflix special called Lobby Baby. It is really fun because if I’m walking in the park, every now and then, a person will point at my kid and say, is that lobby baby? He’s very proud of the fact that he was born in the lobby. So are the doormen. They have a special level of ownership that I feel like they don’t have on the other kids.

Zibby: Oh, wow. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize Lobby Baby was based on the baby in the lobby. That’s so funny.

Seth: That would’ve been a huge coincidence.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Seth: I did a special called Lobby Baby, and then the most amazing thing happened.

Zibby: Okay, I’m so sorry. This is when you don’t prepare enough and don’t watch the special.

Seth: The fact that you can prepare at all with four kids, god bless. You got the book title right. That’s all that matters.

Zibby: Actually, I thought it was great, on your Instagram, you often highlight books that you love, which is wonderful. You must be a huge reader. I’m a huge reader. You had this one when you were talking about All the Light You Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s book, which was so good. You said, “If you’ve never read this book, now is a great time, not just because it’s wonderful, but because there are a lot of short chapters. So if you’re a parent thinking, how the hell am I supposed to read a book with everything else going on? just know if you can find ten minutes, you’re banging out a chapter, maybe two, depending on how fast a reader you are. But really, it’s wonderful. Remember, most local bookstores will deliver, and they need your business now more than ever.”

Seth: Yes. In the early days of the pandemic especially, I took it upon myself to recommend as many books as I could. I hosted the PEN America Awards last night. One of the things I talked about was how it was such a good — the last two years, really, I think showed everybody the value of books and how nice it was at a time where we were so separated from other human beings to remember that a lot of human beings had poured themselves into the pages of these books. You could feel the human connection even if you were just sitting alone and reading.

Zibby: It’s so true. I feel like, by the way, you’re hosting every event I’m going to in the next couple months for every literary anything. I’m like, Seth Meyers here. He’s everywhere. It’s crazy.

Seth: They smelled blood in the water once they realized that I had a book coming out. I’m very bad at saying no, but I do enjoy — last night was a wonderful event. I know I do have one coming up in March as well. Is it Poets and something?

Zibby: Poets & Writers.

Seth: I’m excited about that as well. I’m glad you’ll be there.

Zibby: What types of books are you reading now? What have you read lately that’s great?

Seth: The last thing I read that I loved — I’ve done this before. When a film or television adaptation is coming out about a book that I haven’t read, I realize if I don’t read it now, I’ll just cave and watch the TV show and then never read it. I read Station Eleven, which had been recommended to me a fair bit during the pandemic. I don’t know if you’ve read it. It’s about a pandemic. The pitch was, this was written before COVID, but it’s a really good — I just thought, I can’t do it. I can’t read it. Then it turned out to be the kind of book that everybody said it was, which was incredibly hopeful and optimistic despite the fact that it happened during a pandemic. Knowing that the HBO adaptation was coming out, I read that. It was just wonderful. Then I got her new book — I don’t know how new it is — The Glass Hotel, which is next on the list.

Zibby: I have been hearing from everybody about Station Eleven. I have to read this book. You’re the twentieth person lately. I have to.

Seth: I’ve had books recommended to me over the years that I haven’t liked, but it’s very rare that I’ve had a book recommended by twenty people that I have then not liked. I don’t know why I fight those sometimes the hardest, as if I’m so unique. No, you all like it, but you don’t get me.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s funny. When you were talking Celeste Ng’s book — yeah, I think it was that one — in Instagram also, you said, “For those of you who want to lord it over everybody else that you’ve read it before it comes out, you have five days.”

Seth: I think that’s really important. I think that nothing’s more fun when a TV show’s out and people are talking about it to say, yeah, the book did it a little differently. I mean, what are we reading for if not to lord it over the TV people?

Zibby: Totally. We should just keep running lists of, hurry up and read these. Movies are coming.

Seth: There should be. I think it’s really important — this shows a real snobbery. You want to buy a book before it has the mention of the movie or the film on the cover. You know where it’s like, “Soon to be an upcoming major motion picture”? You got to buy the version before that. You got to show people you were present at creation.

Zibby: If you could get the galley, you would just win everything.

Seth: The galley.

Zibby: The holy grail.

Seth: Now that you and I are published children’s authors, we know all the terms. I will say, in talking about my book, the thing that’s the hardest for me, still, to say — again, it’s what Margaret calls it. I always have to stress to people, this isn’t a word I chose to use, which is manuscript. It’s very funny when you write a picture book, to call — manuscript just seems like a heavier piece of writing than what I did.

Zibby: My thirteen words on a page, or something, is a heavy-duty manuscript. I was reading about — you had mentioned, jokingly, a bat mitzvah coming up or something. I wanted to know a little more about, and you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want, but your wife’s Holocaust history because I’m really interested in all of that.

Seth: It’s fascinating. I only regret that I wasn’t lucky enough to meet her grandparents. They both passed when I first met her, which is almost fifteen years ago now. Both of her grandparents on her mother’s side were Holocaust survivors. Her grandfather was briefly a Schindler Jew who worked in one of those factories. They met at a refugee camp after the war and just connected there and then lived this really full life as survivors. It was always a huge part of their life. They lived in Boston. Then they found their way to New Mexico, which is where both of their daughters and son had relocated, and were a part of this really vibrant Jewish community there. When I go to New Mexico, it’s amazing how many lives they touched. It’s really special. I grew up with everyone assuming that I’m Jewish. I’ve never blamed them because it’s a very Jewish name. I do have a great-great-grandfather on my father’s side. I have a real appreciation for it and a real enthusiasm for the fact that we’re going to raise our kids as Jewish because it’s obviously meant so much to my wife’s entire family history.

Zibby: Wow. All these stories of people finding each other in refugee camps, it’s always so unlikely. It’s so unlikely that anyone finds each other, that we are all even here. It just blows my mind constantly.

Seth: The other crazy thing is how — I won’t get the details of these stories right. Over the years, just because of doing research, they have found cousins. Second cousins, all of a sudden, become like twin brothers when you’ve lost everyone. Any family becomes deeply close. They have this very wide net of family that they’ve met over the years just from doing digging and going through genealogy and going through old papers. I find that to be an incredible celebration of family. Obviously, I love my family very dearly, but I never had to go and find them. They have so many people in their lives that they put the work in as adults to go and find and now have these deeply close relationships to. It’s really a cool thing to be a part of.

Zibby: Wow. There’s some I wish I’d never found.

Seth: Exactly, or some I could lose somewhere.

Zibby: Some I could lose, yeah.

Seth: Say we’re going to go Upstate to go apple picking, and then just wait for them to get out of the car and drive back to the city.

Zibby: Pick up strangers. Put somebody else who might want a ride to the city or something. You’re doing an event with Judy Blume, who’s a total icon in this space. Are you excited for that?

Seth: I am. I was lucky enough to have her on the show once. That was a thrill in its own right. I think Judy Blume was the first author where I appreciated they could write more than one book and there were more Judy Blume books. As a kid, I remember loving them. I think there was a book called Superfudge.

Zibby: There was.

Seth: Is that a sequel to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing? I know they’re connected somehow. I remember the idea that there was a second book with the same characters was so exciting whatever age a librarian told me that. What a lovely — again, as a kid — I’m really close with my parents. I’m really close to my brother. I loved doing things with all of them, but that solitary experience of reading, I found such solace in. I just remember, oh, yeah, you were one of the first people I hung out with, Judy Blume, just me and you and your book.

Zibby: Were you a big reader as a kid?

Seth: I was a big reader as a kid. By the way, I’m so happy I did this, especially since you’ve read back a few of my Instagram posts verbatim, but when I was posting about doing this event with Judy Blume, I had so many terrible first drafts that were along the lines of, are you there, God? It’s me, Seth. Thanks for making my dreams come true and having Judy — .

Zibby: That’s funny, though.

Seth: It’s fine, but I would not have enjoyed you being like, I’m going to read you your Judy Blume — . I was a really big reader as a kid. I loved to read. I felt a great sense of accomplishment whenever I finished a book. I had a weird — my mom really loves literature. She loves books. She loves novels. She would suggest some every now and then. My dad loved spy novels and police novels. I would sort of swing back and forth between the kind of books that my mom loved reading and then Ed McBain and Robert Ludlum. I read a ton of James Bond books. It was a very wide breadth of tastes I had as a kid and a lot of hours spent.

Zibby: Did you ever write?

Seth: I wrote a ton. I wrote a lot of short stories. I would say that I wrote my way into college. I didn’t have great grades, but I was a really good writer as a high school student. This was something that teachers would tell me often, is that I was not —

Zibby: — I’ll take their word for it.

Seth: There was a lot of, you’re not applying yourself. You’re a good writer. You should try harder. When the chips were down, I could write my way out of trouble more often than not, which then came in very handy at a job like SNL. There’s always a deadline. It’s sort of a procrastinator’s dream. My whole life had been working late because I had put it off. SNL, the week starts, and it’s already too late, so I was ready for the moment.

Zibby: It’s always great when you can find the exact right thing for your work style and everything.

Seth: That’s it.

Zibby: That’s amazing. You’ve interviewed a bazillion people, obviously. What is it about interviewing? What do you get excited about when somebody comes on the show? Tell me about that. How do you think about your interviews ahead of time? What do you love? What’s exciting?

Seth: I think the longer you do it, the more you realize there are a thousand different kinds of guests. The great part about the repetition of interviewing them is trying to recognize as fast as possible in the body of the interview, what kind they are. Do they need your help to sort of walk them along the way to their anecdote? Do they just want you to ask a question and get out of the way for their one-person show? Do they want to basically do an improv scene with you where they don’t have a plan? I think the thing I look forward to the most as far as interviews is not overplanning it, not building too much of a blueprint for where I want it to go, and trying really hard to be in the moment, and ultimately, having great appreciation for a talent department who only sits me down with people I’m interested to talk to. We tried very hard to avoid people where the main thrust of my energy is politeness. Just be nice to them. It’s better to respect them and then have the kindness come from that as opposed to, I know you don’t agree with this person or are interested or respect what they do, but just be polite. That, I never have to fall into, which is great.

Zibby: What type of interviewee do you think you are?

Seth: When I get interviewed? I think I match the energy of the interviewer. Does that sound — I don’t know. I think I try to — that’s such a good question. Look at how you’ve thrown me. I feel like I’m pretty fluid. I think I work way too hard when I’m giving answers to not fall into my worst verbal ticks. I’m trying very hard not to say um. I’m trying very hard not to say the word like, which I overuse. For those of you listening, now I would like you to go back, listen for ums and likes. Then give it a number. Minus two for every um. Minus one for every like. Start at a hundred.

Zibby: I’ll send you a copy of the transcript. I’ll circle any in red pen.

Seth: Thank you. When I did my stand-up special, Lobby Baby, which was a year before I had a baby in the lobby —

Zibby: – Which I will now go and watch. Thank you very much. I will do that tonight.

Seth: It’s in the first fifteen minutes. All the lobby baby stuff is right off the top. I know you’re busy.

Zibby: I’ll watch it.

Seth: You could even watch it at 1.5 speed on Netflix. I’ll even give you that. You can just zip right through it.

Zibby: I’ll do it.

Seth: I had someone do a transcript of — I would do practice shows getting ready for the special. I would do an hour. I would have someone do a transcription of it. I would go through it and circle the ums. That was the way to remind myself it was a problem, to visually see it and look and say, look at that. You got to clean that up. It’s worked pretty good.

Zibby: Interesting. I haven’t noticed too many.

Seth: Thank you.

Zibby: We have a check plus.

Seth: There’s an um-checker right off screen.

Zibby: Um-checker. It would be cool if there was some way to, as a word comes out, block it from the — you know what I’m talking about.

Seth: I know a lot of people are listening and not everybody’s watching, but I do want to comment on your bookshelves, which I think are really nicely done.

Zibby: Thank you.

Seth: They’re far enough away that you’re not distracted by the titles of the books. I think that’s one of the things we learned in the pandemic era. If the books are too close to the person, you then start reading the backs of their books. I also want to know — it looks to me as though you’ve color-coded your books.

Zibby: I have.

Seth: Is that your choice?

Zibby: It was. I had COVID last February. I was in bed for nine days. I was only in this room and my bedroom and couldn’t see anybody else and started going out of my mind. I came in here once I finally wasn’t dizzy anymore and whatever, and I took every book off the shelves. I put them all over the carpet. Over the next day or two or whatever, I started color-coding. I put them in piles. I started with one shelf. I was like, well, that looks good. Then I just kept going. Now no one’s allowed to touch these shelves. My son came in the other day. He’s like, “I need a yellow book for some project.” I was like, “Don’t touch it.”

Seth: Oh, this is fascinating to me. I assume anyone who does that has always done it, but you came to this very late. It took COVID for you to get color-coordinated.

Zibby: I had little stacks of color, but it wasn’t this. It wasn’t the whole thing. I know it’s controversial. Some people are like, whatever, my books are alphabetized, but I love it. I see books now by the spines. When I’m looking, I’m like, oh, I know that’s green, or whatever.

Seth: My wife is very neat. I was a slob. I think I’m neater now, but I have not risen to the level of her neatness. I like, on my side of the bed, which, I should note, is against the wall — you have to walk around to my side to look at what’s at the foot of my bed. You have to work to see that. I really like how four books on top of each other looks. I like it on the floor. I like it on a bedside table. I’ve even moved it to the floor out of respect for the fact that she doesn’t like the mess of books. For me, a good stack of four, a sort of messy stack where it looks like they’re all kind of in the process of being read, is maybe my favorite presentation of book.

Zibby: Do they have to be the same, like all hardback or anything?

Seth: I do prefer hardback. I would say that I prefer that, yeah. Her point is, I don’t believe you’re reading all four of these at any given time. That’s a very fair point, and true, but I like to present that way.

Zibby: I like to be in a bunch of different books at the same time. I think it’s different moods.

Seth: Do you read only fiction, or do you read nonfiction too?

Zibby: No, I read nonfiction too. I love memoir. That’s my favorite.

Seth: Interesting.

Zibby: Do you read memoir?

Seth: I don’t read memoir.

Zibby: I love it. It’s like you’re sitting down with someone and hearing their story. You don’t care about people’s stories. No, I’m kidding. That’s all you do.

Seth: I’d read one about me. Does that work? I don’t know memoirs enough. Could someone write a memoir about me?

Zibby: Fiction is great. Fiction’s great too. Anytime you can get lost and distracted in somebody else’s story is a nice escape from the craziness of my own life, so there you go.

Seth: Good.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors now that you’re a published children’s book author?

Seth: I’m certainly cognizant of the fact that it is a different kind of writing than writing a novel or even a short story. In general, I think this is the advice that I always give young writers. You’re not a writer until you write. I think a lot of people think of themselves as writers because they have an idea that they want to get on paper, but it doesn’t count until you do it. The worst thing in the world would be, you meet someone who could actually help you as a writer and they say to you, “Give me your favorite thing you’ve written,” and you haven’t written it yet. That happens a lot of time, I would say. A lot of time when I give this advice is to young sketch writers. I always say, if somebody says, “Oh, you want to be a sketch writer? Let me see some of your sketches,” and your answer is, “Let me write them up,” they know right then you’re just a pretend writer. I think it’s really helpful to write it. Just write out that first draft. Just get it on paper. You won’t believe the parts of your brain that will open up only because you’re writing the words on the page. Sometimes you think, I don’t have an idea. I don’t have enough to start writing. Just that idea of getting words on the page unlocks a different part of your head. I’m not saying it’ll unlock the best part of your head for writing, but more words will come. You just have to start giving yourself that downward momentum, the gravity of writing, and more will come.

Zibby: I love that, the idea of words falling out from gravity.

Seth: I don’t know how you feel this way about writing. Again, so much of my advice is sketch-writing advice because that’s what I did forever. Sometimes writers would come to me at SNL and say, I had this idea, and I can’t tell if it works. I would always say, if you can’t think of two jokes in the first half hour, it’s probably not a good idea. I think great comedy writing, and maybe all writing, there should be some joy as it’s coming out of you onto the page. If it feels too uphill, you maybe want to reposition your skis and see if there’s a way where you can get the wind behind your back.

Zibby: You might just want to go right to après-ski. Get some hot chocolate. Put your feet up.

Seth: Classic Hemmingway move. That’s what you do.

Zibby: Après-ski, okay. Amazing. Seth, thank you so much for all of your time. I really appreciate it. Congratulations on I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared. Congratulations on everything. Thanks for the time.

Seth: Thank you so much. It was lovely spending time with you.

Zibby: You too. Take care.

Seth: Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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